Strawberry Racing Sweet At Rotax Euro

team press 12 September 2013

Strawberry Racing, together with Cream Racing Engines, achieved a remarkable feat in the Euro Max Challenge at Salbris last weekend (7/8 September), with 1st and 2nd-place finishes in the Junior and Senior classes.

China’s Guan Yu Zhou has been involved in a season-long tussle with team-mate Connor Hall for overall supremacy in Junior Max, and even after the two-stroke infused exhaust smoke had long dispersed, only a tie-breaker could separate them.

The Strawberry Racing team has been the benchmark in the Rotax Euro Challenge
Above: The Strawberry Racing team has been the benchmark in the Rotax Euro Challenge
pic - Bas Kaligis

Not to be over-looked, Jai Nijjar stormed through to 3rd in the points, locking out the championship podium for the Tony Kart team. Darren Keane claimed 9th overall, marking him as one of America’s most exciting prospects in recent years.

As has been the case for most of the season, Hall and Zhou were virtually inseparable after the heats at Salbris. Both had taken heat wins, but it was the Chinese star who put his kart down on P1 ahead of the pre-final, with Hall alongside. Nijjar started from fourth, Juri Vips and Thomas Issa claimed 8th and 9th respectively. Keane went from P13, whilst Finlay Hutchison and Omar Ismail were also automatic qualifiers by virtue of their 21st and 25th positions in the post-heats rankings.

A terrific drive from Jai produced his best result of the campaign with a fine 2nd place. Hall claimed 3rd ahead of Zhou in 4th. Hutchison and Keane crossed the line in 12th and 13th but Issa, Vips and Ismail were all sidelined by racing incidents or mechanical issues.

Above: Strawberry Juniors
pic - Bas Kaligis

The main final saw Guan Yu turn the tables on Connor, as he led his team-mate home for a Strawberry two-three finish on the road, but sealing the championship victory. Darren earned 4th with a superb drive, pipping Jai in 5th. Having started 30th, Thomas passed sixteen karts on his way to 14th, ahead of Finlay in 17th and Omar sneaking into the top twenty in 19th. Sadly, Juri was black-flagged for missing out a section of the track.

“The whole season has been a battle between the two drivers, Connor and ‘Joe’ (as the team call Guan Yu) which has led to some ups and downs throughout the season,” said team manager Warwick Ringham, adding: “To be honest we had all miscalculated the points situation and thought that Connor only had to follow Joe home to clinch the championship. After the flag both drivers experienced the highs and lows of winning and losing all in the space of five minutes.”

Reflecting on the performances of Jai, Darren, Omar and Thomas he said: “All the other drivers have improved significantly over the year, which has also been encouraging. It was fantastic for Jai to clinch 3rd in the championship. His battle over the weekend was different to Connor and Joe’s, as there were a few drivers fighting for 3rd position. Really, I can’t believe we have achieved a 1,2,3 in the championship! It makes all the hard work we have put in at the workshop and testing worthwhile.”

If their Junior counterparts had laid-down a benchmark, then Charlie Eastwood and Kyle Fowlie were more than up for the challenge.

Charlie led the way in timed-qualifying, setting the pole position time. He retained P1 status after the heats, to give himself the advantage as the pre-final got underway. With fellow title protagonists Harry Webb (P4) and Kyle Fowlie (P6) nearby, everything was to play for.

Although he finished 3rd, Eastwood was able to put one hand firmly on the trophy after Webb was disqualified following an over-optimistic challenge for 4th place. With Harry prevented from contesting the final, only Kyle could possibly stop Charlie’s march on the title.

pic - Bas Kaligis

Eastwood is a wily campaigner and knew that he had the pace to avoid trouble at the start of the final and go with the equally rapid Fowlie. Second place would clinch the title for the Ulsterman, whilst victory would put the Scot into the vice-Champion’s position.

Keeping clear of the first corner melee and subsequent scrap for the minor placings, they soon broke away and having established a comfortable margin, cruised to an historic one-two finish. Understandably, Ringham was overjoyed.

“Charlie really stepped up this weekend and showed his class and desire to win. To achieve what he has in the last ten months is really quite amazing; Rotax world champ, winning the Florida Winter Tour and finishing it off with being European champion is pretty spectacular. He still has the Super 1 series to finish off and had it not been for a bit of bad luck, he would be challenging for title that as well.

“As for our double winner on the day, Kyle, if you had watched him six months ago you would never have believed he could have been so dominant on a European track. His improvement since the start of the year, especially in the European racing with front brakes, has been amazing. He has had to change his driving style to adapt to what we wanted him to do, rather than what he wanted to do. It took some time but i think he got it all sorted just in time. He has, without doubt, been the biggest surprise for us this season.”

Warwick’s delight for Charlie and Kyle was tempered by the misfortune of his other young star, Harry: “We feel terrible that Harry came away from Salbris without anything to show for his efforts. One mistimed overtaking manoeuvre put-paid to his championship. But for Harry's black flag we could of been looking at a 1,2,3 in Senior as well, and that would have been really impressive.”

Above: Strawberry Seniors
pic - Bas Kaligis

In DD2, Andreas Backman faced an uphill struggle after struggling in qualifying – posting the 24th-fastest time. However, the young Swede showed his mettle with a positive series of performances in the heats, turning adversity into a form of triumph by qualifying on the fourth row of the grid ahead of the pre-final.

All his good work was undone when he had a bad start dropping back to 22nd then after overtaking 10 people had a crash while trying for 11th position and he was classified down in 26th place. Throughout the season, Andreas has developed a reputation for possessing outstanding pace and he unleashed it in the main final. A terrific drive netted a commendable 9th at the chequered flag, highlighting his improving racecraft.

“At the moment, Andreas never seems quite able to put all the elements together over a race weekend. When he does, I think he will be able to drive away off the front of the grid. What he did do this weekend was overtake better than he has ever done before, which was great to see.”

Warwick concluded: “Strawberry Racing would like to thank everyone that has worked so hard this year to achieve the results. At our Sheffield base; Sue, Paul, Tom S, James, plus Tim and Peter in the Cream ‘waft’ department. And huge thanks to our over-worked mechanics Jack, Harry, Mark, Taavi, Jim, Tom F, Toby, Steve, Ed, Joe R and Joe P and Duncan. I really hope I have not missed anyone out!”




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